Could Obama’s gun-control push cost Democrats the Senate?

posted at 11:21 am on April 18, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

So far, we’ve heard a lot of bluster coming from Barack Obama and his allies on Capitol Hill about how the voters will punish Republicans for opposing a series of gun-control measures that didn’t even keep all the Democrats in the fold.  The real problem with “the audacity of mope,” as National Hotline’s Josh Kraushaar writes today, is that voters may end up punishing Democrats in key 2014 Senate contests.  Obama and the Democrats just learned the wrong lesson over their spectacular and embarrassing failure, and may lose the Senate as a result:

If this doesn’t demonstrate the limitations of the president’s political muscle and the influence of his newly minted Organizing for Action lobbying group, I don’t know what does. Yet, despite the embarrassing setback, Obama nonetheless argued that he still held the upper hand, politically: “If this Congress refuses to listen to the American people and pass commonsense gun legislation, then the real impact is going to have to come from the voters.”  That couldn’t misread the political environment heading into 2014 anymore. That’s the audacity of mope.

Put simply, the 2014 Senate elections will be fought predominantly on the very turf that is most inhospitable to gun control–Southern and Mountain West conservative states. It’s no coincidence that three of the four Democrats who opposed the Toomey-Manchin bill are facing difficult reelections in 2014 and presumably are attuned to the sentiments of their constituents. Blame the National Rifle Association for the bill’s failure, but the lobby is feeding into already deeply held opposition to gun regulations and a broader sense of anxiety about the president’s and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s intentions–particularly given the president’s past publicized remark about “bitter” rural voters who “cling to their guns and religion.”  It doesn’t take much for the gun-rights crowd, significant in these states, to jump to inaccurate conclusions given that history.

And how do the White House or allied groups plan on punishing gun-control opponents? The notion of challenging the Second Amendment is as fanciful as it is self-defeating. Democratic primary voters in the deep South have significantly different views on gun rights than their coastal counterparts. Even if they support expanded background checks, the chance of landing a candidate running a one-issue campaign against brand-name Democrats like Mark Pryor and Mark Begich defies common sense. Three years ago in Arkansas, liberals poured their money and manpower in to defeat former Sen. Blanche Lincoln in a primary with the state’s lieutenant governor. Even though Lincoln was unpopular in the state–later losing reelection to Republican Sen. John Boozman by 21 points–she fended off the challenge.

In fact, Kraushaar wonders if Obama is signaling to Democrats who abandoned him that he won’t be doing much to stave off Republican challengers next year:

Surely the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which has its hands full with the competing interests of its incumbents, doesn’t want to see the type of internal conflict that’s riven their Republican counterparts over the last four years. They’ve encouraged their vulnerable Southern members up for reelection to cultivate independent brands, to show they don’t follow the president blindly. That’s what Pryor, Begich, and Sen. Max Baucus of Montana did in opposing the background-check compromise. Obama didn’t say it outright, but he came awfully close to suggesting he won’t be supporting members of his own party who deserted him at a key moment of his presidency.

Kraushaar later concludes that Obama’s impotence on gun control will damage the chances for a White House win on immigration reform.  Perhaps, but the two issues don’t line up all that closely; there are different constituencies in gun rights and immigration reform, and the problem in the latter issue is clearly a lack of government action for people on both sides of the issue.  It might lessen the influence that Obama has on the outcome (if any) for immigration reform, but Obama hasn’t really been part of that effort in any significant degree anyway.  That wasn’t the case on gun control, where Obama pulled his party into a fight it had long avoided, and for good reasons.

Kraushaar’s colleague Jill Lawrence claims that Democrats will continue fighting for gun control, blaming an “intensity gap” for Obama’s loss. But is that what really happened?  Even her own analysis seems to argue otherwise:

Many blame the intensity gap for what Giffords describes as a Senate in thrall to the gun lobby. How intense is the NRA? Here’s an example from former Sen. Ted Kaufman, who was Vice President Joe Biden’s chief of staff in 1994,when Biden was the lead senator on a crime bill that included a 10-year assault-weapons ban. During Biden’s 1996 campaign, Kaufman told me, a fellow from Biden’s office was going fishing in rural southern Delaware. He drove down a dirt road, got out, and walked another mile, to a stream, “and some guy comes by and hands him an anti-Joe Biden leaflet from the NRA,” Kaufman said. “These are incredibly dedicated folks.”

But …

Bloomberg was the first to play hardball in campaigns through his super PAC, Independence USA. The other group he founded, the bipartisan Mayors Against Illegal Guns, announced this week it is scoring senators on their gun votes–just like the National Rifle Association. Obama is urging Americans to “sustain some passion about this” and tell members of Congress that if they don’t support expanded background checks, “you will remember come election time.” There’s no doubt that Organizing for Action, the political group dedicated to his agenda, will remember.

So will Giffords, the former congresswoman who was shot in the head two years ago in Tucson, Ariz., and now leads gun-safety efforts through her group Americans for Responsible Solutions. “Mark my words: If we cannot make our communities safer with the Congress we have now, we will use every means available to make sure we have a different Congress, one that puts communities’ interests ahead of the gun lobby’s,” she wrote Wednesday night in a gut-wrenching New York Times op-ed.

A day before the Senate vote, Mark Kelly–Giffords’s husband–said they will try to oust Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a longtime Giffords friend, if he opposed sensible gun-safety measures. His vote Wednesday helped kill the bipartisan compromise that would have expanded background checks to online and gun-show sales. Yet Flake is not up for reelection until 2018, and therein lies the challenge: Will anyone remember this issue, and the impact of these votes, by then?

Combine that with the massive grassroots efforts from Obama’s OFA and the media blitz that overwhelmingly favored gun-control legislation, and you have to wonder how anyone could believe that the NRA was winning an “intensity gap.”  Morning Joe, the most moderate of MSNBC’s shows, and CNN’s primetime host Piers Morgan went on full-time campaigns for the assault-weapons ban and universal background checks, for instance.  All of this took place in the immediate aftermath of a horrific massacre of the most innocent of victims. And yet, Gallup showed that only 4% thought gun control was the most important issue facing the nation, even after all the hysterical coverage and rhetoric.

Obama lost because he miscalculated the mood of the nation, and the danger to Democrats in pushing gun control.  And that may make him a very lonely Democrat in DC by 2015.

Update: Matt Lewis sums up the “90% support” issue nicely:

I’m not saying that the polls were skewed, but rather, that they are easily misinterpreted. The fact that 90 percent of Americans favor something is largely irrelevant. Most Americans probably favor chocolate over vanilla, but that doesn’t mean they are intent on doing anything about it.

When measuring polls, it’s important to weigh intensity versus preference. According to Gallup, just 4 percent of Americans see guns as the most pressing problem to be addressed. So the support for gun control is an inch deep and a mile wide.

Why does this matter? It tells us that while Americans might prefer background checks, but it’s not an issue that will drive them to the polls. Meanwhile, the minority of Americans who want to defend the 2nd Amendment are likely much more passionate.

The experts agree. Consider this quote from Dan Balz’s column: “If you ever wanted a textbook example of intensity trumping preference, this is it,” said Ross K. Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University.”

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Let’s hope it costs them the Senate and they remain the minority in the House. At least then, Obama can be impeached, procedurally. In the current setup, no one of either party can be impeached (granted, charges can be filed, but that’s as far as it goes, other than a ‘mock trial’.)

xmanvietnam on April 18, 2013 at 4:26 PM

I’d like to think yes…but no. I just hope we hold the house

Redford on April 18, 2013 at 4:27 PM

Obama will never recognize that he is the major reason this failed.

Drained Brain on April 18, 2013 at 11:47 AM

Don’t forget about Chuck Schumer. He is just way too extreme and way too obnoxious for most of the country. He was all over this bill and he’s all over the immigration bill. I would bet there are many in his own party who wouldn’t want to be associated with him Got that, Rubio?

monalisa on April 18, 2013 at 4:58 PM

The left is probably shaking in their boots and between now and the elections next year we’ll hear every lie they can think of to keep them in office. There is a very , very angry public out here that’s tired of the BS and we came very close to loosing our Country. We have a year and a half to clean House and Senate and possibly the White House.

mixplix on April 18, 2013 at 6:11 PM

What’s up with the angry, ol white guys behind that longlegged mackdaddy?

davidk on April 18, 2013 at 7:46 PM

The libs have tipped their hand; they really do want to take your guns. If gun owners didn’t know it before they sure know it now. We will fight them for every inch of ground on this issue —every inch.

claudius on April 18, 2013 at 8:29 PM

I can’t wait until they vote on Barack’s budget.

SouthernGent on April 18, 2013 at 8:30 PM

David Burge [email protected] 10h

Barack Obama complaining about lack of background checks. Umm, okay.

davidk on April 18, 2013 at 9:45 PM

“Best of the Web’s” Taranto punches holes in Gabby Giffords NYT op-ed. Logic is not her strong suit, but their is speculation that this was written by her BFF Wasserman-Shultz.

onlineanalyst on April 18, 2013 at 9:45 PM

I can tell you what WILL cost him the Senate, doing by Executive Action what he couldn’t get accomplished by Executive Demagoguery. Let’s face it, we’re being governed by someone who is little more than a Community Organizer so, when he doesn’t get his way, all he really knows is being a demagogue and agitating some more. This President has absolutely no clue how to legislate.

bflat879 on April 18, 2013 at 10:09 PM


avid Burge [email protected] 10h

Barack Obama complaining about lack of background checks. Umm, okay.

davidk on April 18, 2013 at 9:45 PM

Let’s not go down that road. Just because he has a CT office social security. A hand printed, cracker jack box birth certificate, a published areticle claiming he’s the first native of Kenya to publish in the harvard newletter, and a grandma in Kenya that says he was “born in this village” definitely means you are a racist to think he’s not born and raised in the US.

Nothing to see here. Just move on along.

acyl72 on April 18, 2013 at 10:11 PM

When people feel insecure, their instinct is to protect themselves and their families. That instinct crosses all political persuasions. Once again, Obama’s tone deaf.

keats5 on April 19, 2013 at 8:37 AM

Let’s hope so. The whole Anti-Constitutional movement needs to go.

johnnyU on April 19, 2013 at 11:38 AM

I love Bidens face in this.

johnnyU on April 19, 2013 at 11:39 AM

Be wary of trusting the government with even innocent sounding background check laws. David Rivkin has pointed out traps:

“The bill by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) — which is still the baseline proposal in the Senate — would close the “loophole” by channeling nearly all transfers through an FFL holder. At the heart of the bill is a 1½-page-long definition of “transfer,” meant to exclude from coverage such exchanges as a parent giving a gun to a son or daughter or lending a rifle for a hunting trip. But the dense language creates a trap for the unwary, who could face substantial criminal penalties for mistakes such as shooting a deer one day out of season or going one over a hunting limit — either of which would transform a lawful transfer into an illegal one.

The Reid bill would give the attorney general the power to set the price that FFL holders would charge to oversee private transfers. Opponents rightly noted that nothing would stop the attorney general from ratcheting up the fee to discourage or even halt transfers. After all, being a political appointee, the attorney general could take the heat and simply opt to set a new baseline status quo for gun rights, without further involvement by Congress.”

Chessplayer on April 19, 2013 at 12:13 PM

avagreen on April 19, 2013 at 2:11 PM

Giffords wasn’t shot by the gun lobby, but by a deranged Democrat.

Obama will get a vote on this and most of the country will tell him where to get off. Come election time, you will not see democrats clinging to the president’s anti-white gun bigotry (added the president’s racist angle because he has no priority at all on the disproportionate number of black fatalities from illegal hand guns).

virgo on April 20, 2013 at 10:03 AM

Didn’t help that their spokesman was a certifiable lunatic, who suggested reconning by fire your back yard and blowing holes through doors to see who’s on the other side.

bluesdoc70 on April 21, 2013 at 4:03 PM

Word is Obama is planning on instituting stricter gun control via Executive Order this week….wouldn’t be surprised to see him void the will of the people & , more importantly, the Constitution through Narcissistic Executive Order in order to keep his #1 campaign promise of 2012 — to ‘fundamentally change the U.S.’.

easyt65 on April 22, 2013 at 9:47 AM

Giffords wasn’t shot by the gun lobby, but by a deranged Democrat

Interesting how Liberals always puch the LIE that it is the Conservatives & GOP who are the violent extremists, yet history proves quite the opposite:

DEMOCRATS/’Progressives’ created the KKK, the racist clan that burnt crosses, lynched blacks, & fought civil Rights.

Every assassination / assassination attempt of a U.S. President has been perpetrated by ether someone with no party affiliation or a DEMOCRAT…

Every time there is a shooting, bombing, etc Liberals race to point fingers at Conservatives/the Tea Party — they accused the TEA Party of racism & violence at TEA Party gatherings, but nothing is mentioned regarding the MURDERS, RAPES, DRUG DEALING/ABUSE, VANDALISM, Breaking-And-Entering, etc well documented at Liberal “Occupy” Demonstrations…

No GOP/Conservative Presidential Candidate was raised by a professed Communist who called for the overthrow of the US, mentored by a racist hate-spewing Anti-American ‘pastor’, &/or announced his intent to run for a political position in his buddy’s – a known un-repentent terrorist who perpetrated bombings that resulted in the deaths of other Americans – living room.

If you completely ignore the facts, disregard reality, shut your eyes, & embrace Bill Maher/CNN/MSNBC as ‘preachers of the gospel truth, the argument that the GOP/Conservatives are the violent ones makes sense…

easyt65 on April 22, 2013 at 9:57 AM